Monday, March 15, 2010

Trial by media hits the Vatican

Paddy Power has slashed odds on the Pope's resignation, pretend Catholic groups are holding events "in solidarity with" European victims of clerical abuse in a characteristic fit of opportunism, columnists are sharpening their hyperbole and the ubiquitous Colm O'Gorman is available for comment around the clock. We're about to get trial by media again because ....

The clerical sex scandal has reached the Vatican.

Pope knew priest was a paedophile but allowed him to continue with ministry, The Thunderer thunders.

The Pope was drawn directly into the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal last night as news emerged of his part in a decision to send a paedophile priest for therapy. The cleric went on to reoffend and was convicted of child abuse but continues to work as a priest in Upper Bavaria.

The priest was sent from Essen to Munich for therapy in 1980 when he was accused of forcing an 11-year-old boy to perform oral sex. The archdiocese confirmed that the Pope, who was then a cardinal, had approved a decision to accommodate the priest in a rectory while the therapy took place.

The priest, identified only as H, was subsequently convicted of sexually abusing minors after he was moved to pastoral work in nearby Grafing. In 1986 he was given an 18-month suspended jail sentence and fined DM 4,000 (£1,800 today). There have been no formal charges against him since.

Ok, hold it right there.

Look at that date again.


And look again at the details of the story:

The priest was sent from Essen to Munich for therapy in 1980 when he was accused of forcing an 11-year-old boy to perform oral sex ...The priest, identified only as H, was subsequently convicted of sexually abusing minors after he was moved to pastoral work in nearby Grafing.

So disentangling the various threads of Richard Owen's report, Pope Benedict is charged with moving a priest accused of sex offences to pastoral work, or perhaps for sending him to therapy, instead of casting him to the dogs. It isn't entirely clear. All this in 1980, remember. The Thunderer goes on:

The church has been accused of a cover-up after at least 170 allegations of child abuse by German Catholic priests. The scandal broke in January but the claims, which continue to emerge, span three decades. Critics say that priests were redeployed to other parishes rather than dismissed when they were found to be abusing children.

The "critics" and Richard Owen speak with the benefit of hindsight. It is now taken as given that paedophiles - the term strictly refers to those sexually attracted to prepubescent children, though leader writers and activists have found it convenient to blur the distinction and label anyone who has a sexual relationship with a minor, whether consensual or not a "paedophile" - have an incurable, uncontrollable predilection for child sex abuse, so much so that researchers now debate the whys and wherefores of the voluntary castration of sex-offenders.

This thinking, that an individual is at the mercy of their sexual instincts, runs counter to the Church's traditional understanding of sin, in which the faithful plead the Almighty to forgive them for their sins, committed through their own fault, in their thoughts and in their words, in what they have done and what they have failed to do.

For as the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it, sin is

"a voluntary act, lacking in due rectitude" being found "as a subject principally in the will" and that "the exterior causes of sin are the devil and man, who move to sin by means of suggestion, persuasion, temptation and bad example."

We can espy a shift in the Church's approach towards what might be called the pathologisation of sin by 1980; Father H wasn't told given a harsh penance and firmly told to control himself, he was sent for therapy.

The Church is now being assailed for this but in 1980 she was probably acting according to the latest expert advice. For as we shall see, attitudes to sex abuse then were very different to those which prevail now. Oh yes they were.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Give it a few years and everybody will be talking about the cold judgemental Catholic Church who are too harsh on those poor pedophiles who have only ever wanted to express their love in the best way they know how...

3/15/2010 4:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The usual suspects have been getting very excited.

So this priest is from Essen, and the bishop of Essen sends him to Munich for therapy. This would involve him being off the pastoral circuit for some time. The then vicar general of Munich has it that he put the priest back into pastoral work on his own recognisance, and didn't go through the Archbishop. Which would fit with our knowledge of old Joe, who is infamously not a good administrator, is well aware of the fact, and has a long track record of putting people in admin positions and letting them get on with it.

The other non-story being the Regensburg choir case. You'll have noted that the abuse allegation dates to 1958, and that Mgr Georg Ratzinger didn't take up his post at the choir until 1964. So what we end up with is Georg having to admit that decades ago he would give lazy students a clip round the ear, but he always felt bad about it.

The Irish situation is bad enough, and will take a very long time to sort out. Even so, the glee with which some people have been seizing on every wild allegation in the Berlusconi press... no, I don't think glee is too strong a word. The grinding of axes is too loud to ignore. And some of it from people who are suffering a severe mote-and-beam issue.

3/15/2010 6:04 PM  
Blogger Red Maria said...

I absolutely agree with you, Splints.

There's something quite disturbing in the way some people wallow in these stories.

3/16/2010 7:45 PM  

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